Volume 15, Number 14 – 7/30/12

 Volume 15, Number 14 – 7/30/12 Twitter  Facebook



  • A 200-person Stanford study of iPhone habits found that one in 10 users feels �fully addicted� to his or her phone. All but 6% of the sample admitted some level of compulsion, while 3% won�t let anyone else touch their phones.
  • A California biotech company has announced that its human stem cells restored memory in rodents bred to have an Alzheimer’s-like condition.
  • A massive iceberg larger than Manhattan has broken away from the floating end of a Greenland glacier.
  • The idea that exercise is more important than diet in the fight against obesity has been contradicted by new research.


Is the Web Driving Us Mad? � (Newsweek � July 9, 2012)
Questions about the Internet�s deleterious effects on the mind are at least as old as hyperlinks. But even among Web skeptics, the idea that a new technology might influence how we think and feel�let alone contribute to a great American crack-up�was considered silly and naive. Instead, the Internet was seen as just another medium, a delivery system, not a diabolical machine. It made people happier and more productive. And where was the proof otherwise? Now, however, the proof is starting to pile up. The first good, peer-reviewed research is emerging, and the picture is much gloomier than the trumpet blasts of Web utopians have allowed. The current incarnation of the Internet�portable, social, accelerated, and all-pervasive�may be making us not just dumber or lonelier but more depressed and anxious, prone to obsessive-compulsive and attention-deficit disorders, even outright psychotic. Our digitized minds can scan like those of drug addicts, and normal people are breaking down in sad and seemingly new ways. China, Taiwan, and Korea recently began treating problematic Web use as a grave national health crisis. In those countries, tens of millions of people (and as much as 30% of teens) are considered Internet-addicted, mostly to gaming, virtual reality, and social media. A 200-person Stanford study of iPhone habits found that one in 10 users feels �fully addicted� to his or her phone. All but 6% of the sample admitted some level of compulsion, while 3% won�t let anyone else touch their phones. (Editor�s note: this is a long article that deserves attention; much of the underpinning research is discussed beyond the halfway point.)


Record-setting 500 Trillion-watt Laser Shot Achieved � (GizMag � July 14, 2012)
Researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s National Ignition Facility (NIF) have achieved a laser shot which boggles the mind: 192 beams delivered an excess of 500 trillion-watts (TW) of peak power and 1.85 megajoules (MJ) of ultraviolet laser light to a target of just two millimeters in diameter. To put those numbers into perspective, 500 TW is more than one thousand times the power that the entire United States uses at any one moment. The news comes at a time when the U.S. military and various government agencies appear to be increasingly interested in the use of lasers as potential weapons. However, though the potential national security benefits of such a powerful laser are clear. (Editor�s Note: See �Laser-Powered Drone� article in the section �Security and the Future of Warfare� below.) NIF also provides unique opportunities for wholly scientific pursuits. NIF is said to be the only such facility to offer the potential of duplicating phenomena which occurs in the heart of a modern nuclear device; this is cited by the lab as a key tool to be employed in order to keep underground nuclear testing firmly in the past.

Dark Matter Scaffolding of Universe Detected for the First Time � (University of Michigan � July 9, 2012)
Scientists at the University of Michigan have, for the first time, directly detected part of the invisible dark matter skeleton of the universe, where more than half of all matter is believed to reside. The discovery confirms a key prediction in the prevailing theory of how the universe’s current web-like structure evolved. The map of the known universe shows that most galaxies are organized into clusters, but some galaxies are situated along filaments that connect the clusters. Cosmologists have theorized that dark matter undergirds those filaments, which serve as highways of sorts, guiding galaxies toward the gravitational pull of the massive clusters. Dark matter’s contribution had been predicted with computer simulations, and its shape had been roughed out based on the distribution of the galaxies. Dark matter, whose composition is still a mystery, doesn’t emit or absorb light, so astronomers can’t see it directly, however they deduce that it exists based on how its gravity affects visible matter. Scientists estimate that dark matter makes up more than 80% of the universe. To “see” the dark matter component of the filament that connects the clusters Abell 222 and 223, Dietrich and his colleagues took advantage of a phenomenon called gravitational lensing.

Rivers With Trees, Leaves and Waterfalls Discovered Under the Sea � (Set You Free News � July 14, 2012)
Scientists have discovered a massive underwater river flowing along the bottom of the Black Sea. This amazing undersea river is complete with trees and leaves flowing on the sea bed, and even waterfalls. It is estimated that if on land, the undersea river would be the world�s sixth largest in terms of the volume of water flowing through it. It is about 350 times greater than the River Thames and 10 times greater than Europe�s biggest river, the Rhine. This finding can help scientists to shed more light on how life manages to survive in the deep oceans away from the nutrient-rich waters found close to land. Scientists from the University of Leeds used a robotic submarine to study a deep channel that had been found on the sea bed, and found a river of highly salty (heavier) water flowing along the deep channel at the bottom of the Black Sea, creating river banks and flood plains much like a river on land.


Gold Nanoparticles Could Treat Prostate Cancer with Fewer Side Effects Than Chemotherapy � (University of Missouri � July 16, 2012)
�In our study, we found that a special compound in tea was attracted to tumor cells in the prostate,� said Kattesh Katti, professor of radiology and physics in the School of Medicine and senior research scientist at the MU Research Reactor. �When we combined the tea compound with radioactive gold nanoparticles, the tea compound helped �deliver� the nanoparticles to the site of the tumors and the nanoparticles destroyed the tumor cells very efficiently.� This treatment is successful due to the inherent properties of radioactive gold nanoparticles, including a very short half-life. With a half-life of only 2.7 days, the radioactivity from the gold nanoparticles is finished within three weeks. Because of their size and the compound found in tea, the nanoparticles remain at the tumor sites. This helps the nanoparticles maintain a high level of effectiveness, resulting in significant tumor volume reduction within 28 days of treatment.

Bioactive Protein from Ancient Medicinal Plant May Help Combat Melanoma and Other Cancers � (Science Daily � July 23, 2012)
Previously published research prompted an international team of scientists led by Gary Goldberg, PhD, of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-School of Osteopathic Medicine to examine a protein extracted from the seeds of a legume tree that is native to parts of Asia. References to this tree being used medicinally can be found in Chinese documents that date back more than 400 years. Dr. Goldberg and his colleagues found that MASL, a specific component found in the plant’s seeds, interacts with a receptor called podoplanin (PDPN) that is expressed by many types of cancer cells. This discovery seemed profound as they and other investigators found that the PDPN receptor promotes tumor invasion and metastasis to other parts of the body that are sources of the vast majority of cancer deaths.

Human Stem Cells Found to Restore Memory � (Technology Review �July 26, 2012)
A California biotech company has announced that its human stem cells restored memory in rodents bred to have an Alzheimer’s-like condition�the first evidence that human neural stem cells can improve memory. The company, called StemCells, is betting that its proprietary preparation of stem cells from fetal brain tissue will take on many different roles in the central nervous system. The company and its collaborators have already shown that its stem-cell product has potential in protecting vision in diseased eyes, acting as brain support cells, or improving walking ability in rodents with spinal cord injury. This metamorphic ability is not so surprising�they are stem cells, after all. But experts say the quality of scientists involved in StemCells and the interesting properties of its cells sets the company apart. See also: Study Suggests Alzheimer�s Disease Can Be Stabilized.


Iceberg Bigger Than Manhattan Breaks from Greenland Glacier � (MSNBC � July 17, 2012)
A massive iceberg larger than Manhattan has broken away from the floating end of a Greenland glacier this week, an event scientists predicted last autumn. The giant ice island is 46 square miles, and separated from the terminus of the Petermann Glacier, one of Greenland’s largest. The Petermann Glacier last birthed�or “calved”�a massive iceberg two years ago, in August 2010. Although the new iceberg isn’t as colossal as its 2010 predecessor, its birth has moved the front end of the massive glacier farther inland than it has been in 150 years.

Bacteria Outbreak in Northern Europe Due to Ocean Warming � (News Daily � July 22, 2012)
Manmade climate change is the main driver behind the unexpected emergence of a group of bacteria in northern Europe which can cause gastroenteritis, new research by a group of international experts shows. The study provided some of the first firm evidence that the warming patterns of the Baltic Sea have coincided with the emergence of Vibrio infections in northern Europe. Vibrios is a group of bacteria which usually grow in warm and tropical marine environments. The bacteria can cause various infections in humans, ranging from cholera to gastroenteritis-like symptoms from eating raw or undercooked shellfish or from exposure to seawater. The Vibrio study focused on the Baltic Sea in particular because it warmed at an unprecedented rate of 0.063 to 0.078 degrees Celsius a year from 1982 to 2010, or 6.3 to 7.8 degrees a century.

Watch the American Landscape Change as Seen from Space � (Wired � July 26, 2012)
The Landsat mission has been taking satellite imagery and data of Earth for 40 years. One of the primary benefits of such a record is the ability to study changing landscapes. To celebrate the launch of the first Landsat satellite on July 23, 1972, the USGS and NASA asked the public to nominate landscapes that have undergone a lot of environmental change for a closer look. The Landsat team chose these six submissions and created customized chronicles of the change in each area. See also: Landsat�s Most Historically Significant Images of Earth from Space.


Fighting Hackers without Sinking to Their Level � (Technology Review � July 26, 2012)
With cyber attacks that steal valuable intellectual property on the rise, companies need to consider their options for striking back at attackers, attendees of the annual Black Hat computer security conference in Las Vegas heard recently. Many believe that striking back could be more successful in deterring attacks than just strengthening the systems designed to shut out attackers. However, what kind of offense will be technologically possible and legally allowable is still unclear. Advocates of this approach are mostly concerned with what are dubbed advanced persistent threats (APTs)�sophisticated attacks that involve stealthily stealing valuable intellectual property and that have been successfully used against prominent companies such as Google and security firm RSA in recent years. Many such attacks are supported by foreign governments, said former FBI agent, Shawn Henry. “It’s like playing poker with a marked deck when you sit down with a company that’s been given” a foreign government’s support, he said, adding that while at the FBI he learned of such a raid that copied 10 years of research and development work, worth approximately $1 billion, from one company.


Life Is Easier with Friends Next Door � (Yes Magazine � July 16, 2012)
The yearning to live in community is not a new one. Human beings evolved sharing common space, resources, and neighborly support, not only for physical survival but also for a sense of belonging and togetherness. But modern society values autonomy, often at the cost of the social connection offered by traditional communities. Cohousing, an idea that originated in Denmark in the 1960s, has been increasingly filling the gap. Each household in cohousing has an individual residence but takes part in the design process, consensus-based decision-making, shared meals, and socializing. The model is flexible enough that each cohousing community has its own aesthetics and sense of place. Regardless of the physical set-up, the common thread that seems to run through all cohousing communities is that the most important values and benefits cannot be measured in dollars and cents. Neil Planchon describes cohousing communities as high-functioning neighborhoods.

The Trophy Basement � (Wall St. Journal � March 16, 2012)
Wealthy home builders around the globe are digging deep. Some luxury-home builders are aiming to avoid the exterior footprint of a megamansion�without sacrificing the square footage or oversized amenities. Others are looking for a way around development restrictions that limit home sizes above ground. In many cases, the d�cor of these underground spaces rivals what’s upstairs, with high ceilings, hand-painted mosaic tiles and limestone floors. In central London’s prime neighborhoods, high density, strict building codes and skyrocketing real-estate prices�up 43% since March 2009, according to real-estate firm Knight Frank�are resulting in some of the most elaborate subterranean living spaces in the world. In Los Angeles, builder Mauricio Oberfeld has buried about a third of his home underground: He built a contemporary 9,000-square-foot house for his family with a 3,000-square-foot basement. Glass stairwells lead to a lower level with an ornately tiled spa, large office, wine room and movie theater.


New Technology for Grid-Level Electrical Energy Storage � (Drexel University � July 10, 2012)
One of the foremost challenges for sustainability is efficient use of renewable energy resources, a goal that hinges on the ability to store this energy when it is produced and disburse it when it is needed. A team of researchers from Drexel University has developed a new method for quickly and efficiently storing large amounts of electrical energy. The team�s solution combines the strengths of batteries and supercapacitors while also negating the scalability problem. The �electrochemical flow capacitor� (EFC) consists of an electrochemical cell connected to two external electrolyte reservoirs – a design similar to existing redox flow batteries which are used in electrical vehicles. However, the technology is unique in it uses small carbon particles suspended in the electrolyte liquid to create a slurry of particles that can carry an electric charge.

Prototype “Flat-pack” Wind Turbine Pops Up in the UK � (GizMag � July 18, 2012)
A new prototype wind turbine, 30 years in the making, and designed for flat-pack shipping and easy assembly, has been erected at Keele University in the UK. Like other vertical axis turbines, the prototype, designed by the McCamley company, is particularly well-suited to the gusting winds of inner cities, though the design is also suitable for rural installations. The turbine is able to begin rotating during light breezes as modest as 4 mph. The low starting speeds mean that turbines can be mounted on building rooftops without the need of an additional mast, and McCamley claims the multi-leg design of the turbine reduces the stresses placed on the building’s structure. See photo in article: very different design concept from the �propeller� style.

Scientists Create Transparent Solar Panels Out of Glass-like Plastic � (Daily Mail � July 23, 2012)
Researchers have developed a new transparent solar cell which means windows in homes and other buildings can have the ability to generate electricity while still allowing people to see outside. The UCLA team describes a new kind of polymer solar cell (PSC) that produces energy by absorbing mainly infrared light, making the cells nearly 70% transparent to the human eye. They made the device from a photo-active plastic that converts infrared light into an electrical current. �These results open the potential for visibly transparent polymer solar cells as add-on components of portable electronics, smart windows and building-integrated photovoltaics and in other applications,� said study leader Yang Yang, a UCLA professor of materials science and engineering. �Our new PSCs are made from plastic-like materials and are lightweight and flexible,� he said. �More importantly, they can be produced in high volume at low cost.�


General Motors Opens up OnStar with Peer-to-peer Car Sharing Service – (Gigaom – July 17, 2012)
The roughly 6 million subscribers to GM�s OnStar connected car service can now rent out their cars to other drivers via a deal between the auto giant and peer-to-peer car sharing startup RelayRides. The partnership was announced in October of last year, and the service is now functioning. OnStar’s API serves as the middle-man by unlocking doors for renters after owners negotiate a rate. The initiative is indicative of the ongoing melding of automakers into tech companies. RelayRides says the OnStar system makes its peer-to-peer service more secure, as the OnStar vehicles can be controlled and tracked in the network. Auto makers have an interesting relationship with car sharing. Car sharing has been proven to lead to fewer cars being purchased, so in a small part, car sharing is cannibalizing the auto maker�s business. But a variety of automakers are realizing they can also benefit from car sharing, including getting their cars in front of the young and urban who normally wouldn�t be test driving their cars. Other companies, like Daimler, and Volkswagen, are trialling their own car sharing pilots.

Soybean Oil Can Reduce Use of Petroleum in Tires � (Goodyear � July 24, 2012)
Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company researchers have found that using soybean oil in tires can potentially increase tread life by 10% and reduce the tiremaker�s use of petroleum-based oil by up to seven million gallons each year. In addition, testing showed improved mixing capabilities in the manufacturing process. The company found that rubber compounds made with soybean oil blend more easily with the silica used in building tires. This can improve plant efficiency and reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Prototype tires will be tested at Goodyear�s Proving Grounds in San Angelo, Texas in the coming months. If indicators remain positive, Goodyear expects consumers will be able to purchase tires made with soybean oil as early as 2015.

Road-Paver Concept Lays Asphalt Underneath Traffic � (Wired � July 27, 2012)
A recent design school grad has come up with a machine that can pave roads without shutting down lanes or stopping traffic. Too good to be true? Yes. It�s pure, unadulterated vaporware, but the concept is sound even if the chances of production are nil. Gosha Galitsky, a graduate of the Ume� Institute of Design in Sweden, conceived a machine that would re-pave the road beneath while vehicles drive up and over (see video clip in article). The Dynapac Red Carpet allows cars to pass over, while the machine re-heats and shapes the road surface using microwaves, a process known as Hot-in-Place Recycling. Microwaves heat the upper road layer and the asphalt binding agent, returning the pavement to its original soft state. Rotating brushes scoop the soft asphalt into a tank where it�s mixed with a small amount of fresh binder. The mixture gets paved back onto the road while a set of rollers at the rear compress the new pavement. Since the Red Carpet moves so slowly, the recycled pavement has time to cool. By the time the machine passes over, the surface is ready to handle traffic. But its berth only allows for cars narrower than 78.7 inches to pass through. Sorry, Hummers. (Editor�s note: So this machine isn�t going to be coming into existence. That�s too bad. But the concept of repair and/or replacement without disrupting use is likely to see more applications.)


Laser-Powered Drone Aircraft Could Fly Forever, ‘Stalker’ Test Suggests � (Huffington Post � July 16, 2012)
A silent drone flown by U.S. Special Forces could stay in the air forever, in theory, if power were being beamed to it from a laser on the ground. That exciting possibility came up during an indoor flight test showing how a laser could power a Stalker drone for 48 hours. The electric version of Lockheed Martin’s Stalker has a battery that usually lasts just two hours, but in the test, a laser power system wirelessly recharged a drone battery in midair for 24 times as long. Such a system, if proven in actual outdoor flights, could give U.S. Special Forces a steady robot friend in the sky to watch for targets or approaching enemies.

Avi Rubin: All Your Devices Can Be Hacked � (TED � February, 2012)
Could someone hack your pacemaker? At a TED conference, Avi Rubin explains how hackers are compromising cars, smartphones and medical devices, and warns about the dangers of an increasingly hack-able world. Avi Rubin is a professor of computer science and director of Health and Medical Security Lab at Johns Hopkins University. His current research is focused on the security of electronic medical records.


The Lily Pad Strategy – (Nation of Change – July 16, 2012)
The growing number of patients arriving at Ramstein (US military hospital in Germany) from Africa pulls back a curtain on a significant transformation in twenty-first-century U.S. military strategy. These casualties are likely to be the vanguard of growing numbers of wounded troops coming from places far removed from Afghanistan or Iraq. They reflect the increased use of relatively small bases like Camp Lemonnier (in Djibouti), which military planners see as a model for future U.S. bases �scattered,� as one academic explains, �across regions in which the United States has previously not maintained a military presence.� Washington�s garrisoning of the planet is on the rise, thanks to a new generation of bases the military calls �lily pads� (as in a frog jumping across a pond toward its prey). These are small, secretive, inaccessible facilities with limited numbers of troops, spartan amenities, and prepositioned weaponry and supplies. Around the world, from Djibouti to the jungles of Honduras, the deserts of Mauritania to Australia�s tiny Cocos Islands, the Pentagon has been pursuing as many lily pads as it can, in as many countries as it can, as fast as it can. Although statistics are hard to assemble, given the often-secretive nature of such bases, the Pentagon has probably built upwards of 50 lily pads and other small bases since around 2000, while exploring the construction of dozens more.

Google Reports Alarming Rise in Government Censorship Requests � (CNN � June 17, 2012)
Western governments, including the United States, appear to be stepping up efforts to censor Internet search results and YouTube videos, according to a “transparency report” released by Google. “It’s alarming not only because free expression is at risk, but because some of these requests come from countries you might not suspect — Western democracies not typically associated with censorship,” noted Dorothy Chou, a senior policy analyst at Google. In the last half of 2011, U.S. agencies asked Google to remove 6,192 individual pieces of content from its search results, blog posts or archives of online videos, according to the report. That’s up 718% compared with the 757 such items that U.S. agencies asked Google to remove in the six months prior.

Everything Is Secret, So Don�t Bother Asking � (Nation of Change � July 20, 2012)
In 2011 the U.S. government classified more than 92 million documents. However, less than a generation ago, we got by with fewer than six million documents being classified per year. Along with this explosion in classification and state secrets, efforts to declassify documents — to make them theoretically accessible to ordinary Americans — have plummeted from 196 million pages declassified in 1996 to only 26.7 million in 2011. Put simply, in less than a generation classification has increased by a factor of fifteen and declassification has decreased by a factor of seven.


Protests Rising Within China � (Nation of Change � July 11, 2012)
The rapid rise of social media has played a significant role in growing civic awareness among the populace. China�s micro-blogs have helped inspire large gatherings of protestors. Users, many who were born in the post-1990s and are well-educated, have quickly spread details and images of protests around the country, forcing the hand of the government. For example, the word �Shifang� (the name of a city where tens of thousands of residents recently took to the streets to protest, forcing the government to scrap plans to build a copper plant) was the most widely searched term on China�s micro-blogs. Protestors relayed details of incidents as they happened, including complaints of police brutality and the liberal use of pepper spray against protestors. Graphic photographs of protestors with blood pouring down their faces and chests � reportedly after been beaten by government forces � went viral on the micro-blog Sina Weibo. The posts have since been deleted but the level of social activism is being changed dramatically by social media.


Capitalism’s “Sacrifice Zones”: Communities Destroyed for Profit � (TruthOut � July 24, 2012)
There are forgotten corners of this country where Americans are trapped in endless cycles of poverty, powerlessness, and despair as a direct result of capitalistic greed. Journalist Chris Hedges calls these places “sacrifice zones,” and joins Bill this week on Moyers & Company to explore how areas like Camden, New Jersey; Immokalee, Florida; and parts of West Virginia suffer while the corporations that plundered them thrive. Hedges notes, “It’s the willingness on the part of people who seek personal enrichment to destroy other human beings. And because the mechanisms of governance can no longer control them, there is nothing now within the formal mechanisms of power to stop them from creating essentially a corporate oligarchic state.” Article includes full text of interview.


Astronomers Find Rare Spiral Galaxy in Early Universe � (Sidney Morning Herald � July 20, 2012)
Astronomers have stumbled upon an astonishing spiral galaxy that was born nearly 11 billion years ago, a finding that could spur a rethink of how galaxies formed after the Big Bang. Dubbed BX442, the ancient star cluster was discovered in a survey of 300 distant galaxies carried out by the powerful Hubble Space Telescope and the Keck Observatory in Hawaii. BX442 is the first “grand design” spiral galaxy to be observed so early in history. Located 10.7 billion light years away, it was created some three billion years after the Universe was born in a superheated flash. A “grand design” galaxy formation is one with well-defined arms spiraling out in opposite directions from a central cluster of stars in a pattern resembling an S, like our Milky Way. Other galaxies observed this far back in time have irregular, clumpy structures, with conditions too hot to allow them to settle down into a spiral. “The vast majority of old galaxies look like train wrecks,” said Alice Shapley of UCLA who reported the find. “The discovery of BX442 tells us that a spiral pattern can form in the early universe, which we did not know,” and represents a link between early, turbulent galaxies and the rotating spiral kind we find today.

Moon Formation: Was It a �Hit and Run� Accident? � (BBC News � July 27, 2012)
Scientists have proposed a fresh idea in the long-running debate about how the Moon was formed. What is certain is that some sort of impact from another body freed material from the young Earth and the resulting debris coalesced into today’s Moon. But the exact details of the impactor’s size and speed have remained debatable. In recent years, scientists’ best guess for how the Moon formed has been that a relatively slowly moving, Mars-sized body called Theia crashed into the very young Earth. Now, Andreas Reufer, of the Center for Space and Habitability in Bern, Switzerland, and colleagues have run computer simulations that suggest another possibility: that a far larger and faster-moving body made an even more glancing blow with the young Earth. They said this body would have lost only a small amount of material and most of it would have continued on after the “hit-and-run”.


Walmart Heirs Combined Net Worth Equal to That of Bottom 40% of Americans in 2010 � (Huffington Post � July 17, 2012)
The six heirs to the Walmart fortune were worth $89.5 billion in 2010, the same as the bottom 41.5% of U.S. families combined, according to Josh Bivens of the Economic Policy Institute. That’s 48.8 million American households in total. Sylvia Allegreto of the University of California at Berkeley found last year that the six children of Walmart founders Sam and James �Bud� Walton had the same net worth in 2007 as the bottom 30% of American households. But between 2007 and 2010, that net worth rose, while the incomes of most Americans declined, explaining the three-year shift.


German Scientists Create World’s Lightest Material � (The Local � July 18, 2012)
Aerographite made by scientists at Hamburg and Kiel universities is 75 times lighter than polystyrene and four times lighter than the previous record holder for the world�s lightest material. Weighing just 0.2 milligrams per cubic centimeter, Aerographite is water-repellent, conducts electrity and is able to withstand high pressures. It can also be compressed up to 95% and pulled back to its original size without damage. Aerographite would be ideal for use in lithium-ion batteries for electric cars. The material might also be used to make plastics conduct electricity without adding to their weight.

Can Creativity Be Automated? � (Technology Review � July 27, 2012)
Computer algorithms have started to write news stories, compose music, and pick hits. It’s widely accepted that creativity can’t be copied by machines. Reinforcing these assumptions are hundreds of books and studies that have attempted to explain creativity as the product of mysterious processes within the right side of the human brain. Creativity, the thinking has been, proves just how different people are from CPUs. But now we’re learning that for some creative work, that simply isn’t true. Complex algorithms are moving into creative fields and proving that in some of these pursuits, humans can be displaced. For example, writing short news stories of sports events, grading students� essays and composing music. The algorithms work by having distilled patterns and reproducing them with variations; now algorithms are beginning to be able work with and combine multiple patterns.


The Avatar Economy � (Technology Review � July 18, 2012)
In our economy, many of the jobs most resistant to automation are those with the least economic value. Just consider the diversity of tasks, unpredictable terrains, and specialized tools that a landscaper confronts in a single day. No robot is intelligent enough to perform this $8-an-hour work. But what about a robot remotely controlled by a low-wage foreign worker? Three companies currently produce commercially available robots that allow users to navigate through a remote working environment, interacting by means of a computer screen. So far these systems have limited functionality (some dub them “Skype on wheels”), and they’ve mostly been used for high-value problems involving costly experts, such as medical diagnosis. The next wave promises much more functionality per dollar. Progress toward the “avatarization” of the economy has been limited by two technical factors that don’t involve robotics at all: the speed of Internet connections and the latency involved in long-distance communication. Connecting a Thai worker to a robotic avatar in Japan with enough signal fidelity to carry out nonroutine work may be more difficult than engineering a cheap robotic chassis and related control systems.

How the Euro Was Saved � (Economist � July 24, 2012)
It is easy to envision a downward spiral that results in multiple countries leaving the euro amidst a financial and economic meltdown. It is almost impossible to envision the opposite. But somebody has to. In May, Peter Berezin of the Bank Credit Analyst adopted the viewpoint of someone looking back on the crisis from the year 2021, and described what today must seem like a hopelessly idyllic outcome: In the end, the common currency survived. Indeed, over the past five years, growth has accelerated sharply and debt levels and borrowing spreads have continued to come down� While it was hard to imagine during the dark days of 2012, European stocks have outperformed all other major markets over the past decade. The scenario goes into greater detail and has been updated since May. Is this scenario possible? Perhaps. Is it optimistic? Definitely. And it�s still not a pretty picture.


Colorado Shootings Add Chapter to Long, Unpredictable Story of U.S. Mass Murder � (Washington Post � July 24, 2012)
The United States is a less violent country than it was two decades ago. The homicide rate, which hit a peak in the early 1990s at about 10 per 100,000 people, has been cut in half, to a level not seen since the early 1960s. But there has been no corresponding decline in mass murder � these sudden, stunning eruptions of violence with multiple victims, often perpetrated by gunmen whom researchers refer to as �pseudo-commandos.� The statistics on mass murder suggest it is a phenomenon that does not track with other types of violent crime, such as street violence. It does not seem to be affected by the economy or by law enforcement strategies. The mass murderer has become almost a stock figure in American culture, someone bent on overkill � and, so often, seemingly coming out of nowhere. The United States experienced 645 mass-murder events � killings with at least four victims � between 1976 and 2010, according to Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox. He added that restrictive gun laws would be unlikely to stop people who are resolved to kill. �Mass killers are extremely deliberate and determined and, no pun intended, dead set on murders,� said Fox. �They will find the weapons they need regardless of what impediments we put in front of them. It�s not an impulsive act.� The psychological profile of a mass murderer generally fits someone who is suicidal, said Roger Lane, professor emeritus of history at Haverford College. And that is exactly what mass murder is, he said: a form of suicide.

Boundary Conditions � (Economist � June 16, 2012)
The idea of planet-wide environmental boundaries, beyond which humanity would go at its peril, is gaining ground. With nine areas of concern: climate change; ocean acidification; the thinning of the ozone layer; intervention in the nitrogen and phosphate cycles (crucial to plant growth); the conversion of wilderness to farms and cities; extinctions; the build up of chemical pollutants; and the level of particulate pollutants in the atmosphere, the idea of planetary boundaries�a set of limits beyond which people should not push their planet�has taken root. The notion, its limitations and, hopefully, refinements are significant ideas to hold in mind as we, as a species, consider how we shall steward the planet. The latest criticism of the general concept comes from the Breakthrough Institute, a determinedly heterodox American think-tank that focuses on energy and the environment. Among the points made in a report it published on June 11th, two stand out.

FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH – articles off the beaten track which may – or may not – have predictive value.

Hunter Gatherer Clue to Obesity � (BBC News � July 25, 2012)
The idea that exercise is more important than diet in the fight against obesity has been contradicted by new research. A study of the Hadza tribe, who still exist as hunter gatherers, suggests the amount of calories we need is a fixed human characteristic. This suggests Westerners are growing obese through over-eating rather than having inactive lifestyles, say scientists. The Hadza people, who still live as hunter gatherers, were used as a model of the ancient human lifestyle. Members of the 1,000-strong population hunt animals and forage for berries, roots and fruit on foot, using bows, small axes, and digging sticks. They don’t use modern tools or guns. A team of scientists from the US, Tanzania and the UK, measured energy expenditure in 30 Hadza men and women aged between 18 and 75. They found physical activity levels were much higher in the Hadza men and women, but when corrected for size and weight, their metabolic rate was no different to that of Westerners. Dr. Herman Pontzer of the department of anthropology at Hunter College, New York, said everyone had assumed that hunter gatherers would burn hundreds more calories a day than adults in the US and Europe. The data came as a surprise, he said, highlighting the complexity of energy expenditure.


Earth as Art: 5 Most Popular Landsat Satellite Images � (Wired � July 24, 2012)
Images of Earth from space give us a different, often enlightening and even inspirational view of our planet. The USGS and NASA have taken some of the more interesting images from the Landsat satellites and added some false color, digitally produced by sensors on the satellites, to accentuate different features and create works of art.


In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is. � Yogi Berra

A special thanks to: Thomas Bergin, Bernard Calil, Kevin Foley, Chas Freeman, Ursula Freer, Brad Hayden, Diane Petersen, Petra Pieterse, Deva Premal, Bobbie Rohn, Joel Snell, Gary Sycalik, Steve Ujvarosy and all of you who have sent us interesting links in the past. If you see something we should know about, do send it along – thanks.


Edited by John L. Petersen

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